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Mount Saint Johns (The Bad & Ugly)

Last year I posted a trip report named “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”.  This aptly represented the snow conditions that day as we skied some lines in Garnet Canyon.  This trip report is simply titled “The Bad and the Ugly”.

Before I go in to all of the details of this great adventure, I must first confess that at times my rebellious, teenage-like side takes over and I chose to do something that goes against advice from someone who knows my capabilities.

So, I had been planning a trip to the Tetons for a couple of months on this first weekend in May.  I originally thought that the Exum guide that I have worked with was going to be around, but he had more important things, (I think a sister’s wedding).  The snow pack is great in the Tetons this spring, so I figured something like Teewinot would be a good objective.  I ran this by Aaron and he agreed that it was probably doable by someone like me and another strong partner.  BUT, he recommended that we tackle something slightly less aggressive – say Rock chuck Peak or Mount Saint Johns.  These two 11k peaks have direct approaches right from the String Lake parking/trail head.

This sounded good, except I thought I had a better plan, (the rebellious teenager thinking).  It is interesting to note here that Aaron is about the same age as my son, but has far more experience in mountaineering than I do.  Anyway, I got thinking that we should do Moran on day one and then one of the two peaks that Aaron said we should do on day two.  My reasoning was that although it is much bigger, I had been in the “Skillet” a couple of times and I knew the terrain pretty well.  Plus, the conditions were such that we could skin all the way in from the String Lake parking.

“The Bad”

My partner for this venture, Brady Adams and I left Boise Friday morning and drove right over to the Tetons for some recon work.  The plan was to validate what we were doing; head back to my aunt’s place in Wilson and get some rest.  We were back up at midnight and on the skin track just after 1AM.  Within a few minutes, without realizing it until later we were well on the way to BAD.  There wasn’t just one skin track, but multiple sets.  No worries I thought, everyone we had seen in the parking lot that afternoon was headed for the Skillet so I just figured they all had their own little alternate route.

We took one very bad turn which crossed the Leigh Lake outlet to the west, (thinking that it was just part of the String Lake system).  We knew within a short amount of time that we really needed to be back on the east side of the lake, but mistakenly assumed that it wasn’t that much further to go around the west side – an hour maximum, right???  Plus we WERE on a skin track.  Well somewhere around 3:30 in the morning, we caught up to the two guys setting our skin track and they were in their sleeping bags at the bottom of the Falling Ice Glacier.  We tried to just sneak by, but woke them, (sorry guys).  They said they were gonna climb the Falling Ice and we briefly discussed that option, but decided that we weren’t that far behind and just push on.  Wrong move – BAD.  That is when the bushwhacking and post holing began.  Three hours later, beat up and frustrated we arrived back at the point of where we were about 30 minutes from heading up the glacier.  We finally made one good choice and decided to make this a morning ski tour and abandon the Skillet.  It turned out to be an 11 mile circumvention of Leigh Lake.  We just chalked Saturday up to experience, licked our wounds and headed back for food and rest.  One postscript to this is that as I researched the GPS data, took photos and studied Google Earth, I think I may have figured out a cool route combo for climbing/skiing Mount Moran.  I’ll need to visit with Aaron about that first.

“The Ugly”

Day two began at 3:30 AM, and skinning up Mount Saint John right at 5:00 AM as planned.  The biggest concern that we had was that the temps overnight were borderline warm at just under freezing.  I had been noticing that the weather forecasts were actually showing a slight inversion and sure enough there was a warmer band has we got up around 8000 feet.  The snow had crusted on top of a relatively fresh layer that had either already avalanched earlier in the week, or was consolidating and bonding on top of a pretty consolidated base layer.  There were some pretty big debris piles and slide paths that we had to negotiate.

At 8100 feet we took the skis off and began post holing it right straight up a central ridge towards the top.  This was tough going, due to the breakable crust, but Brady lead most of the way.  At 10300, we hit our limit and decided not to push the final 700 feet to the top.

The climb up was brutal and physically demanding, but the ugliness wasn’t over by a long shot.  The upper 1500 feet was very steep in places and although the skis did not break through the crust, it was what I call bullet proof.  Firm was an understatement.  At just under 9000 feet we hit the breakable crust and so every turn had to be a perfectly executed jump turn.  This junk finally gave way to mashed potatoes, and for the final 600 feet or so of vertical we had something that approached the consistency of spring corn.

Epilogue

So, was it worth it?  Well, the first day really was pretty “bad”, except there is the possibility of an interesting future route AND we did have some beautiful scenery.  There are many who would think an 11 mile cross-country trek in GTNP is pretty cool.  I’d maybe even count myself as one of those individuals.  The problem is that we were in AT gear, we did a lot of it in the dark, and we had way too much bushwhacking!  The Mount Saint John climb and ski was “ugly”, but very rewarding.  We boot packed up some super gnarly snow conditions in steep rugged terrain.  We then turned around and skied 3400 vertical feet of highly variable snow in that same steep terrain.  That is a huge confidence builder and although my quads and calf muscles are slow to forgive me, it really was fun to take on that challenge successfully.

It was bad and ugly, but Brady and I had a great time in the mountains.  And of course, we enjoyed the wonderful dinner that my aunt Caryn made on Saturday night, which included some great conversations with her friend who is one of the true old school mountain guides.  No summits were reached, but friendships were made and we had a blast in the “bad and ugly”.

 

GPS Data and map of the Bad & Ugly adventure:

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